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Posts from the ‘Sudan’ Category

Border Crossing into Ethiopia

It took us two hours to drive from our bush camp to the Ethiopian border in Metemma. The whole border crossing procedure lasted another two hours which is quite quick for an African border. I exchanged my remaining Sudanese Pounds (SDP) against Ethiopian Birr at a rate of 1 SDP to 4 Birr. This rate is significantly worse than the official rate I looked up in the internet of 1 SDP to 6 Birr. However, I only had SDP in the equivalent of 30 US dollar so that I didn’t really care. Some other people tried to change their Sudanese Pounds on the Ethiopian side of the border and only got offered 3 Birr for 1 SDP.

The Ethiopian immigration office was from a technological perspective the best equipped one I seen in Africa so far. They even took our photos and fingerprints, a procedure which was to my knowledge first introduced at the US border. Ellen, whose passport was fallen into a hot spring in Egypt, had slight problems since the chip in her passport didn’t work and so the immigration officer stated this passport might be fake and not valid. However, after she explained the situation they let her pass and entered the passport data manually.

On the first impression the world in Ethiopia looks very much different than in Sudan. The landscape became greener, the temperature dropped since we gained significant altitude and the colour of the houses and products for sale became brighter. It took us until 4pm to drive to Gondar since our truck is quite slow when driving up a mountain. Gondar is the largest city behind the border and once used to be the capital. We stayed at the Goha Hotel which is very nice since it is situated on a mountain overlooking the city.

Compared to Sudan, Gondar is quite chilly. The altimeter in my watch displayed an altitude of 2,250 meter. The temperature dropped from 38 to 26 degree and although this is still quite warm it let you freeze when coming from the extreme heat. It might sound strange but we got out long-sleeved cloth out… It was even hailing in the afternoon so we considered our warm cloth appropriate.

When trying to check into the hotel we discovered that our reserved rooms were gone. The reason is that two of the eight new people joining us in Gondar showed up before we arrived and the guy at the reception thought that our group size has dropped from twelve plus eight new people to only two and gave our rooms to other travellers. After a lengthy discussion we ended up with three rooms in the hotel and some people, luckily not including myself, had to move to a guesthouse nearby.

After we had to be abstinent from any kind of alcohol in Sudan we spent the remaining evening socializing and drinking. I had some Ethiopian wine with an interesting taste, quite similar to the local wine I tasted in Egypt.

Long driving Day towards the Ethiopian Border

Last night was not very comfortable. I had to share Mo’s couch with one of my fellow travellers since there were not enough beds for everybody. It was also kind of windy in his house since we left the entrance door widely open. Lots of Mosquitos were flying around trying to bite me and suck some of my blood.

After we got up Mo’s mother prepared some tea in the provisional kitchen and we had bananas with it. We had to leave quite early so that there was not enough time to prepare a proper breakfast. We started driving at 8am and the goal was to get as close to the Ethiopian border as possible and bush camp wherever we end up.

So we drove until 5pm and set up our tents in the wilderness. We tried to avoid that our truck and tents could be seen from the major road. We heard that there are bandits in the area and we were not keen on meeting them.

I spent the time before dinner to play Frisbee with two of my fellow travellers. Dinner was great. Chris, the retired banker from Ireland, was able to obtain quite some good ingredients in the western style supermarket in Khartoum and prepared mashed potatoes with meatballs for us.

Day with Mo

Mo is the nickname of Mohamed the Sudanese guy some of us have met on the ferry boat from Aswan to Wadi Halfa. Mo was so kind to invite our group of 12 people to his house in Khartoum and today was the day we visited him and his family. When we checked out the hotel at 12pm Mo was already waiting for us at the reception. He then joined us in our truck and on the way to his house he was showing us a bit around in Khartoum.

First we went to a western style supermarket which can rarely be found in Sudan. The word supermarket is maybe a bit overstated since it was very much smaller than the supermarkets in the Western civilization. Many of us were delighted to see food which they are used from home and which is not available in Sudan or many other countries of the third world, e.g. Nutella, a chocolate based spread. I somehow couldn’t share these emotions since I was happy with the food I’ve got during the last days and was not looking for specific pieces of junk food.

We then drove by the cities flagship hotel Burj al-Fateh and it was surprising to see this luxury hotel in the middle of all the poverty in Sudan. Who really needs this kind of hotel in Sudan? Maybe only rich international businessmen and politicians stay there. Lastly, we drove by the confluence of the White Nile and the Blue Nile which actually forms the river Nile.

Mo’s house was situated in a suburb of Khartoum and it took a while to get there. It was still under construction thus it was nearly empty but the family moved already in a few months ago. Mo had borrowed a few beds from his neighbours so that every one of us had a place to sit and sleep. The time we spent with the family consisting of Mo, his mother, another woman, a little boy and a baby was somewhat unspectacular but relaxing. Someone had turned on the TV and therefore most people were staring at it which was not very sociable. So we watched pieces of a movie, a football match, news on Aljazeera and the Arabic version of MTV.

Lazy Day in Khartoum

After travelling for a few weeks and due to the lack of major sites in Khartoum except for Mosques to which entry is forbidden for female visitors, I decided to have a lazy day in the hotel. After breakfast I spent the morning to talk to my parents using Skype.

In the afternoon I was following up on the news and my emails since I had no internet access during the past two weeks. While surfing in the internet I noticed that the access to the internet in Sudan is also restricted by the government as it the case in China.

At 5pm we had a short group meeting were we discussed that we will be joining a local family to celebrate the Muslim holiday of Eid-al-Adha with them. Some of us have met members of this family on the ferry boat from Aswan to Wadi Halfa two weeks ago and they invited our whole group of 12 people to their house. We are planning to drive over to them by lunch time tomorrow and then spend a whole day and the night at their house. They did not want to accept any money and presents from us so we only bought some of the local sweets as a gesture of our gratitude for their hospitality.

It’s also said that due to tomorrows Muslim holiday a large amount of animals will be slaughtered on the streets and I’m already curious to experience this Muslim holiday together with a Muslim family. In order to be very respectful our leader Tom reminded all female travellers to strictly stick to the dress code for Muslim countries such as long trousers and a loose fitting t-shirt covering major parts of the body.

Whirling Dervishes of Omdurman

We had a late start at our camping ground in Khartoum. Actually the plan was to directly drive over to the hotel and check in as early as possible. This was not possible before 11am that’s why we took lots of time to have breakfast at the camping ground. Since we don’t eat out of the truck while staying in hotels we had to finish all food in the trucks fridge which added an interesting variety of food to our breakfast table.

We checked in to the Khartoum Plaza Hotel a four star hotel in downtown Khartoum. The hotel is under Chinese management and quite nice. Compared to all Sudanese hotels we experienced so far this hotel seems pure luxury even when there is hair of previous guests floating around the bed and between the order of a coke in the hotel’s restaurant and the actual delivery at the table lies 1 hour and 20 minutes waiting time. But we’re in Africa and therefore we have all the time in the world…

After a few relaxing hours in the hotel, I washed all my cloth and hung it up all over the hotel room. In the afternoon we booked a minibus which was supposed to bring us to a woodcraft market some of my fellow travellers wanted to visit and afterwards to a performance of the Whirling Dervishes of Omdurman. However, the minibus driver mixed something up and instead of driving us to the woodcraft market we ended up in the market for white household goods such as refrigerators. Since this was not the market we intended to visit and there was also a traffic jam close by we quickly re-routed the minibus driver directly to the dervishes. Here we experienced another miscommunication because we were supposed to watch some kind of show with an admission of 55 SDP (16 USD) but we ended up at a real dance and prayer of some dervishes around a tiny mosque in a suburb of Omdurman. Actually, I didn’t know what to expect from the show but the real thing seemed to be way more interesting and cool also because we and 5-7 other people were the only tourists there.

The dervishes represent the mystical site of Islam also known as Sufism. Every Friday they are dancing in Omdurman to the beats of a drum until they fall in trance. This is very interesting to watch since the eyes of the dervishes look like they went crazy. There is also a mystical smell in the air and it seems that nobody is able to resist the beat of the drum. The dervishes dancing lasted from 5pm to 6:30pm when they started their prayer and we left the scene.

My roommate Michelle and I had dinner at the hotel’s restaurant which was a bit more pricy compared to local food (5 USD for a pizza) but really worth it.

Meroe Pyramids and Naqa Temples

In the morning we visited the Meroe Pyramids which are situated south of Atbara. Although this site is considered the most important and well-known site all over Sudan we were the only visitors during our entire two hour stay there. This underlines again that tourism in Sudan is still in its infancy. However, while all Sudanese sites we visited so far had no touristy appearance at all there were 5-10 guys at the Meroe pyramids trying to sell some hand-made souvenirs and an additional 5-10 guys offering camels rides around the pyramid area. Despite this touristy infrastructure I preferred using my feet to walk around. The pyramids were quite impressive since there were a whole lot of them. Compared to the pyramids we saw in Egypt they are significantly smaller which is considered to be Nubian style.

At lunch time we stopped in Shendi. We were requested to strictly take no photos in this town for a reason which is still unclear to me. In general it’s not allowed to take any photos in Sudan without a photo permit which can only be obtained in the capital Khartoum. Since we didn’t enter the country in Khartoum but Wadi Halfa we had no possibility to obtain such a permit and therefore we just take photos without an official approval.

When we registered with the police in Shendi, a process we need to do in every major city, we were also requested not to bush camp on the way to Khartoum as originally planned but drive all the way to Khartoum and spend the night there. We were also requested to first register in Khartoum before we go and see the temples at Naqa which basically lay on the way from Shendi to Khartoum. However, we managed to negotiate that we can see the temples before the registration and therefore avoid going several hours back and forward.

The Naqa temples are basically two temples, one devoted to Amun and the other one to Apedemak. While the Amun temple reminded me of the temples I saw in Luxor (Egypt), the Apedemak temple featured a Roman Kiosk which I haven’t seen in Sudan so far.

Since we were not allowed to bush camp in the area we had to drive all the way to Khartoum. Usually we do not drive after sunset but this time we needed to. We arrived around 9pm and since we had no budget planned for this night and there is no budget accommodation in Khartoum we stayed at the city’s camping ground which was not nice at all. Actually the camping ground reminded me more of a car park since we had to put up our tents between cars and only 10 metres away from a major road. For these special occasions I always carry earplugs with me which let me forget all the noise around me and give me a wonderful sleep. Before going to bed we had some leftover chicken soup from the night before which got burned during the heating process and therefore had a very special taste.

Despite my earplugs I didn’t sleep through. Michelle, the girl I’m sharing a tent with, woke me up in the middle of the night since some kids were unzipping our tent and trying to steal some stuff out of it. The second time I woke up was because Michelle got up at 5am to call her mother for her birthday.

Long Driving Day to Atbara

This day was supposed to be a driving day from the Sudan Red Sea Resort close to Port Sudan back to Atbara. Driving day means that no activities were planned for this day except for covering a large distance which more or less takes all day.

We left the resort at 9am and stopped for 45 minutes at Port Sudan to shop for food to prepare lunch, dinner and breakfast the next day. Since I was not up for cooking I just wandered around the market for a bit.

I killed the travel time to Atbara by watching the changing landscape out of the trucks window and by starting to read the book “Daemon” which was recommended to me by my IT-loving friend Daniel. This science fiction story about a computer program running without direct human influence only triggered by internet news and other events is kind of interesting. The frightening aspect is that today’s technology is already advanced in a way that this story could become true.

Our long drive was only interrupted by a quick lunch stop were we prepared sandwiches with canned tuna and by several check points and a police registration along the way. Here you need to know that we’re not allowed to freely travel around the country after we passed border control. Instead we are only allowed to drive straight from the border in Wadi Halfa to the capital Khartoum. For all travel outside of this route a special permit is required as we needed to obtain one for our travel to Port Sudan. Furthermore, there is a checkpoint every 100 kilometres or so where we need to stop and check-in. Depending on the mood of the police these checks are sometimes very quick and sometimes they want to kill time and therefore having a detailed look in our truck and / or our passports. In addition we’re also requested to register with the police in every major city especially when we plan to stay in the region overnight. Lastly, we need to register once we reached Khartoum which costs 45 USD per person. Luckily our local guide Nasser exactly knows when and where we need to register which is not always obvious and he also takes an active role in this process.

When we registered with the police in Atbara they told us that we’re only allowed to bush camp next to a house so we found one shortly after passing the city. Today’s cook group prepared a large pot of chicken soup for dinner which was very delicious.

Sudanese Red Sea Resort

Pierre and I needed to get up at 6:45am to prepare breakfast as requested. Later on we found out that breakfast was actually included in the price of the resort. So half of the people ate our breakfast consisting of yoghurt and fruit and the other half had the pancake breakfast of the resort.

The diving boat left at 9am. This time I was accompanied by two fellow travellers: Beth, a woman from the US, who just got certified was diving with the local dive guide Osman and me. And there was Andrew, an Australian guy, who just wanted to get a trial diving lesson. First Beth, Osman and I jumped in. We dove along the reef at a maximum depth of 13 metres. What we saw was pretty similar to the dive spot the day before: clam shells, large bleached corals and many different kind of small fish. Our dive lasted half an hour since Beth was running out of air. When we reached the surface I still had 140 out of 190 bar in my tank. While we were diving Andrew went snorkelling to kill the time until his trial dive. Later on, Osman briefly showed him how to use the diving equipment and then they went down to 10 metres. I was watching them from a distance while hanging around under water.

We returned to the beach at 1pm and I spent the time until the afternoon dive with cleaning the truck which is my assigned duty for the first few weeks of the journey. The afternoon dive was pretty similar to the morning one with the exception that we managed to see some living corals meaning they were not yet bleached. We went out at 2:30pm and returned at 4:30pm. This time only Beth, Osman and I went diving while Andrew and everybody else were relaxing at the resort.

The Sudan Red Sea Resort itself is quite an interesting place. It is said that this place is owned by a Dutch couple although I only saw Sudanese people around. The resort is in a remote location with no village or other houses close by. So if you are stressed out and look for a remote place to go on the beach this is it. The resort has a capacity of 20 beds and there is also an opportunity to put up tents. The cost for camping is 10 USD and a space in one of the 2-bed-room bungalows is 35 USD a night. Since I don’t mind camping I decided to put up my tent which was quite a challenge since it was very windy. Therefore, I got compensated by an incredible sea view straight from my tent.

The resort is also operated in an eco-friendly way meaning rain water is collected and all energy consumed by the resort is generated by a windmill and a few solar panels. During our two day stay we were more or less the only guests. There was only a small picnic on the day we arrived were a Sudanese man met his future wife thus the first step of a marriage arranged by his parents.

In the evening we had a group dinner which was prepared by the resort staff: carrot soup, rice and chicken.

Diving in the Sudanese Red Sea

We left Sawakin at 8am and drove to Port Sudan the country’s major port and hub to the rest of the world. While heading towards the coast during the past two days we observed many huge trucks, also known as “road trains” in Australia, carrying all sorts of goods. Yesterday, we also saw a convoy of 60 or so trucks each carrying approx. 50 soldiers waving at us. Although the friendly gesture we were wondering where those soldiers are going. We hope not to the crisis area around Dafur

We spent 2.5 hours in Port Sudan and since it was up to Pierre and me to do the cooking for the group both of us went shopping. Our budget was 70 Sudanese Pounds (SDP) which is approx. 20 USD to prepare breakfast and dinner for 12 people. While being at home this amount of money feeds only 1-2 persons it’s not an issue to feed 12 for the same amount in Sudan. In addition the exchange rate is at our favour. While the official exchange rate is around 2.7 SDP to the dollar the black market in Sudan pays us 3.5 to 4.0 SDP for the dollar since Sudanese people want US dollar so badly. I changed money with an owner of a small shop at a rate of 3.5. Surprisingly, he only wanted to give me a better rate of 3.8 in exchange for a 100 USD note but not for two 50 USD notes. So far I always assumed that smaller notes are favoured by most African salesmen since it limits their risk of default meaning when one of the two 50 USD notes turns out to be false money they still have the other one and only lose 50 USD instead of 100 USD. However, for whatever reason this salesman was in favour for big notes.

Pierre and I bought tons of vegetables, fruit and yoghurt. We also tried to buy some chicken for dinner but it was too expensive since we could not buy it from the market but restaurants only. I also noted that the local chicken do not carry the amount of meat they carry back home thus they are more bony. These situations always remind me of the genetically modified and manufactured food we’re eating in the western civilization. If you have not yet seen the movie “Food, Inc.” you should add it to your list of must have seen movies.

We left Port Sudan at 12pm for the Sudan Red Sea Resort which lies approx. 30 kilometres north of the city. After being covered in sand and dust for days we were desperate for a swim in the Red Sea. Soon after arrival I checked in at the local diving shop and went out for my first dive in Sudan. Since nobody else wanted to join I went out on my own accompanied by four Sudanese guys. Three of them operated the diving boat and the fourth one called Osman was the guy I was diving with.

When talking about diving in Sudan you need to forget the western standards and don’t be scared about it. The diving shop was no PADI or CMAS diving centre and my dive buddy Osman seemed not to have any diving certification. However, it turned out that Osman was a very skilled diver and therefore it was fun to dive with him. The equipment of the dive shop was somewhat recent featuring brands like Mares and Waterproof. There was only a shortage of O-rings used to seal the diving tank with the regulator thus all regulators were leaking a bit. The reef was a 30 minutes boat ride away from the coast. When we jumped into the water the engine of the boat was still running so that we needed to watch the propeller. Osman and I descended to 25 meters under the surface but there was not much to see, meaning no big fish like sharks, mantas or so. We spent the time to dive along the reef and saw several colourful clam shells, two sting rays and large although bleached corals. Since Osman and I are experienced divers we did not breath heavily so that our 190 bar tank lasted for 60 minutes and we came up with 50 bar each. When returning to the surface you usually do a three minutes safety stop at five metres to avoid decompression sickness. While I spent those minutes at five metres Osman seemed not to care and went straight up to the surface.

Overall, diving in Sudan is fun since there are not many divers around and the reef is kind of untouched. Osman told me that he did only 5-6 dives during the last 6 weeks. The remaining time he works as a tuk-tuk driver in Port Sudan. Personally, I found my dives in Sudan comparable to what I seen underwater in Kenya. If you looking for more impressive diving spots in the Red Sea, Egypt is probably still the number one choice. You also need to have the ability to not be scared of a bit unconventional diving and have the ability to take care of yourself and others. Since I’m a certified diving instructor this was not an issue for me.

In the evening Pierre and I cooked a freestyle Indian dish consisting of rice, vegetables, ground meat and lots of spices. Ground meat is not really Indian but as the chicken was too expensive I did not want to buy any other meat since all the meat I ate in Sudan so far was quite chewy why I decided to use ground meat. Our creation was kind of interesting. The dish was very spicy but still eatable. At least everybody managed to eat it and we had no leftovers.

Coral Ruins of Sawakin

This day was planned as a long driving day. We started driving at 8am and drove approx. 440 kilometres to Sawakin were we arrived around 2:30pm. After a short lunch break we had time to explore some historic ruins consiting of corals on a little island situated in the Red Sea right in front of the town. The ruins are supposed to show a harbour area were slavery trades were conducted in the past. Unfortunately the area was currently under restoration and despite of some piles of stones there was not much to see. Probably it is worth returning in a few years’ time when the restoration work is finalized.

Our plan for the night was to bush camp in the surrounding area of Sawakin but Nasser raised some security concerns since according to him there are bandits in the area. Therefore, we decided to spend the night in a hotel. When we showed up at the hotel Nasser had reserved for us we got refused. I’m not fully sure what the reason was but from what I heard it was them either too risky to host travellers with white skin because they feared that we misbehave or they didn’t know how to deal with a mixed gender group since small Sudanese hotels are split in a men and a women area. So we drove a few streets further and stayed in another hotel which was not fancy at all but at least there was one shower which was shared by all male and female guests of the hotel. It was a great feeling to wash after a few days in the heat. There were also quite some mosquitos around and I saw them landing on my skin. During the night I got bitten 20 times or so.